At least one Formula One team has started running practice laps with a new partially protected cockpit. The Scuderia Ferrari team attached their own prototype version of the "halo" safety device to the cockpit of Raikkonen's car this morning during preseason testing in Barcelona, and it's the first time it's ever been seen on a car by the public. The images were published on the official F1 Twitter account and website, just one day after the series' governing body published images from last year's secretive cockpit strength tests.
The images show the Scuderia Ferrari team employing a much more polished carbon fiber version of the halo cockpit than the unfinished steel version seen in the test images. The halo design was originally piloted by Mercedes-Benz Motorsports, but the project was taken over by the FIA last year once the governing body decided to accelerate plans to increase driver protection.
The FIA plans to make protection like this mandatory starting in 2017, but is reportedly still accepting and evaluating alternate designs. For now, the halo is just the "preferred option." The next likely move is to place it on more cars in order to give drivers time to evaluate potential shortcomings. Obstructing the driver's vision is a worry, but the FIA has performed limited on-track tests of similar designs in the past and found drivers had little to no issue with their vision. And, for what it's worth, Raikkonen said there was "surprisingly little difference" between this and the view from a normal cockpit.
In order for the series to move forward with the plan to implement semi-closed cockpits next year, F1 teams still have to agree on a particular design. Perhaps the more pressing question about concepts like these, which are supposed to increase safety, is how they affect the driver's ability to get in and out of the car — especially after accidents. The FIA hasn't stated if tests like those have been performed.
Update March 3rd, 1:17PM ET: Added comments from Kimi Raikkonen and information about this being a specific prototype from Ferrari.